Themes

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

It is no secret that an extremely common sport around the globe is soccer. With a simple ball and makeshift goals, young boys and girls around the world can begin playing this sport and perfecting moves, shots, and positions throughout their lives. A single player does not necessarily need a...

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It is no secret that an extremely common sport around the globe is soccer. With a simple ball and makeshift goals, young boys and girls around the world can begin playing this sport and perfecting moves, shots, and positions throughout their lives. A single player does not necessarily need a professional trainer, nor fancy equipment, nor a turf field to become an all-star. So how does Foer assert that such a simple game can explain the world?

Soccer has an incredible social and political influence in both individual nations, as well as around the globe. In some cases, the sport has become a national religion with its players as the idols and its citizens as its worshipers.

There are two obvious themes in this intriguing book, the first of which is nationalism. Devoted citizens and athletes from countries on every continent share a passion for this beloved sport, and worldwide competitions serve as opportunities to display zealous nationalism. For nations which cannot boast a powerful military position, an impressive GNP, advanced education levels, etc., they can enter the world platform and receive global approval for an impressive soccer team. These nations can enter into a level of competition with nations with which they usually cannot compete. Soccer, in a sense, levels the playing field. Similar to the Olympics, the World Cup and other soccer events serve as stages for worldwide status and prestige.

Foer examines how individuals in various nations have also gained or lost incredible power or position, depending on their influence upon a national soccer team or players. He suggests that corruption and greed have also been perpetuated in business, as well as politics, in relation to national soccer teams.

Foer analyzes the ability of one sport to affect so many lives in so many countries. For example, he explains how the Iranian soccer team's 1997 victory to qualify for the World Cup led to a brief moment in the nation's history where a love of a sport bypassed religious tradition, as women who had been banned from the celebration of the returning team stormed through barricades to join the national celebration in the stadium.

However, in an almost contradiction to nationalism, another theme of the book is globalization. Foer discusses in great detail how soccer has united the world in another way, as so many people share a love for the sport. The World Cup is not just an event for many citizens and governments: it is a global spectacle. In the time around the World Cup, one can find people from various nations sharing conversations in airports, subways, and online about favorite teams, expected match ups, predicted winners, etc.

However, Foer makes a clear point that despite soccer uniting so many, the sport still fails in expected globalization efforts by some (governments), as devotion by nationals to their own teams supersedes any time of global goodwill. Unfortunately, all too often, citizens around the world witness and read of violent clashes, threats, and attacks at international soccer events between rivaling citizens of the teams.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 283

One central theme of How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization is, as the title indicates, globalization. This process, which involved, as Thomas Friedman (quoted in the Prologue of How Soccer Explains the World) writes,

...the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states, and technologies...in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before.

Soccer is, on the one hand, the beneficiary and important agent of globalization. It is the world's game, penetrating almost every global television market including (although not really when Foer published the book in 2001) the United States, China, and India. As Foer points out, soccer fans regularly watch Spanish, German, or English clubs featuring players from around the world. So, he argues, soccer is an ideal subject to study the effects of globalization.

But Foer's study of the game's effects leads him to some surprising conclusions, and this brings us to the second main theme of the book--what Foer characterizes as "local institutions." Many theorists argued have argued that globalization will efface or even destroy these local institutions, which, depending on context, can be for better or for worse. But Foer finds that localism, be it in the form of nationalism, corrupt oligarchies, political machines, or other cultural identities, has persisted, and in many ways been augmented by soccer, even though it is an agent of globalization. As he observes in the Prologue, "[I]f soccer is an object lesson, then perhaps religion and tribe have too much going for them."

The conflict between globalization and local institutions is at the heart of the book, which uses soccer to explore both of these themes.

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